Coronavirus live blog, May 8: Harris: ‘solid progress’ on indicators of success

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 08, 2020 7:09 PM CT | Published: May 08, 2020 8:19 AM CT

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You can protect yourself and help prevent the spread of coronavirus by:

  • Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or flexed elbow when you cough or sneeze
  • Avoid close contact (within 6 feet) with people
  • Stay home and self-isolate from others in the household if you feel unwell
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth if your hands are not clean

To view the city’s stay-at-home order, click here.

Here’s the latest from Memphis and Shelby County, below, when it comes to dealing with the novel coronavirus. To view our full coverage, check out The Daily Memphian’s coronavirus landing page.

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May 08, 2020

Tennessee adds 345 cases, 4 deaths

3:44 PM CT, May 8

Tennessee has 345 more confirmed coronavirus cases and four more deaths resulting from the disease, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

That brings the total to 14,441 confirmed cases and 241 deaths.

Statewide, 243,578 tests have been administered; that’s an increase of 7,250 since yesterday’s update.

More than 7,000 -- 7,011 -- people are considered officially recovered; 1,299 have ever been hospitalized.


Free drive-thru testing to be held at U of M

3:17 PM CT, May 8

Free drive-thru coronavirus testing will be conducted from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 12 through Thursday, May 14 at the University of Memphis.

The testing will held on the Central Avenue parking lot, next to the Holiday Inn. The test consists of a self-administered nasal swab.

Health care workers, and symptomatic and asymptomatic people are eligible for testing, based on a virtual screening. Click here to be screened and then schedule a test.

Test results are expected to be returned in about 48 hours; Kroger Health expects to administer 250 tests per day.

Kroger Health is partnering with U of M and Cherokee Health Systems for the testing. 


Governor’s COVID-19 Unified Command leader to leave post

2:11 PM CT, May 8

Stuart McWhorter, the leader of Gov. Bill Lee’s COVID-19 Unified Command team, is set to leave the post for the private section at the end of May, the governor announced Friday.

McWhorter, who formerly served as commissioner of the Finance & Administration Department, is set to take a role in senior advisory at Clemson University, according to the governor.

“Stuart has been a tremendous asset to my administration, first as the commissioner of Finance and Administration, then in his role as director for our COVID-19 response through Unified Command,” Lee said in a statement. “His ability to apply private-sector expertise to public-sector challenges has served our state well and I wish him the best in his new chapter with his alma mater’s entrepreneurship and innovation planning.”

The Unified Command Group, composed of the Tennessee Department of Health, the Tennessee Department of Military and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, has established working procedures for testing, procurement, hospital capacity contingency planning, data analysis and other core functions in the fight against COVID-19. The Unified Command Group continues to coordinate with the Economic Recovery Group through planning and executing on the safe re-boot of Tennessee’s economy.

“The strong work of Unified Command will continue as we address the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis,” Lee said. “This group has optimized our state’s response and we will keep this model in place for as long as needed.”


Mississippi adds 404 cases, 13 deaths

2:13 PM CT, May 8

Mississippi has 404 more confirmed coronavirus cases and 13 more deaths associated with the disease, reports the Mississippi State Department of Health.

The 13 deaths include three from prior weeks identified through death certificate investigation.

In total there are 9,090 confirmed cases and 409 deaths.

DeSoto County has 325 confirmed cases, resulting in five deaths.

Marshall County has 52 confirmed cases, resulting in two deaths.

As of May 3, the latest data released, 4,421 people are considered presumed recovered.


Harris: ‘solid progress’ on indicators of success

12:23 PM CT, May 8

Today’s briefing by the local COVID-19 task force started with David Sweat of the Shelby County Health Department, with Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris on the way from the budget retreat with the Shelby County Commission at Shelby Farms. 

Harris said there is “solid progress” on indicators of success, including testing capacity with an “upward trajectory.” Average tests per day is 1,151-- “a dramatic improvement in the number of tests.”

On case data, Harris said the downward trajectory is an analysis, not a raw number of counts, it’s a ratio of confirmed cases to number of tests done. There is stabilization by that standard in positivity. 

Mother’s Day advice: Sweat said look for social distancing between tables at dine-in and capacity restrictions, as well as masks on employees. Also consider take-out, especially if you have a senior in your family. And they recommend against gatherings of 10 or more.

Harris said you can call mom for Mother’s Day and you should call your mother every day anyway.

Submitted questions from kids: Logan wants to know how to be safe. Harris said we’re fortunate that so far that kids have been pretty resilient. Only three kids that have had severe reactions to COVID-19. Another question about report cards; grades became final in March per Harris.

On public health capacity, Harris pushed a proposal for a massive expansion of the Health Department to the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday with 140 full time employees to COVID-19 response. And allocation for wrap-around services for those isolated or quarantined -- hotel room, free meals and “path for income support.”

He also plans to expand testing capacity. He wants to hire several new nurses to do testing as part of health department regular duties. And to hire “dozens and dozens” to do contact tracing.

Harris said his health care expansion package is $10 million total and he will seek the first $6.3 million of that from the County Commission next week.

Sweat said it has been two months since confirmation of the first case in Shelby County and he interviewed that person. Sweat said the reproductive rate was one case infecting four to five more. Today it is 1.14 infected by each person. He said the rate of transmission is slightly below what is seen with influenza.

Harris said he expects the next conversation about openings to be about education.

There are 1,203 active COVID cases, meaning they are within the 21-day period since testing positive.

Sweat said active cases are mostly among age groups that are likely to be parents of young children; that explains the pediatric cases.

Sweat said about those who test positive and then test negative and then test positive again: We have had incidents in the community and in literature. 

”This is something that is actually known in many different types of viruses,” he said.

 Sweat said there is a a lot of conversation among experts about how to interpret: Does it mean reinfected? Does it mean bad collection? 

”It’s not clear at all what these test results mean,” he said. “We are still learning a lot about this virus.”

On the 66 deaths so far: 63.6% are male -- 70% African-Americans -- 18% involved close contact to another case -- 39% associated with health care, outbreaks in nursing homes and similar facilities. The median age of those who have died is 74.On the other risk factors: 30% had diabetes, 16.7% were obese, 30% had respiratory condition.

The key message for those with risk categories including cardiac is social distancing, wash your hands, wear facial coverings and limit trips outside the home.

On asymptomatic cases in facilities, Sweat said they are still studying that phenomenon. They don’t have analysis yet. This is becoming a big issue. And Sweat said it is showing up more as testing expands -- not just in institutions.


Shelby County reports 73 cases as new tests top 1,400

10:06 AM CT, May 8

Shelby County reported 73 new COVID-19 cases Friday as 1,467 additional tests were confirmed.

The positivity rate of those tests was 5%. 

The total number of coronavirus cases in Shelby County is 3,113.

There were two new deaths reported Friday with the total rising to 66.

In Shelby County, there have been 38,345 tests for coronavirus with an 8.1% positivity rate.

There are 1,803 recoveries from the virus in Shelby County.

Statewide, there are 14,096 cases with 237 deaths as of Thursday, May 7, according to the latest figures from state’s health department.

In Tennessee, the total number of tests performed is 236,328 with a 6% positivity rate.

Tide of COVID-19 testing continues in Memphis

Government officials try to get a handle on outbreaks with ramped up coronavirus tests


Watch today’s COVID-19 Joint Task Force briefing

12:00 PM CT, May 8

Today’s COVID-19 Joint Task Force briefing is set to feature Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Shelby County Health Department Department Alisa Haushalter.

Watch below:


How COVID-19 cases are growing locally and statewide

10:02 AM CT, May 8



Local and state coronavirus cases, tests and recoveries

10:03 AM CT, May 8



Memphis Zoo plans May 13 reopening

8:13 AM CT, May 8

The Memphis Zoo plans to reopen Wednesday, May 13, in a phased reopening.

All guests (and zoo staff) will be asked to wear face coverings and only 2,500 guests will be allowed in the zoo. 

The front gate will be the only entrance allowing entry and the zoo will not accept cash. Credit cards, membership cards (with identification), Apple Pay and tickets purchased online, will be accepted. Nonmembers can pay for parking either online or at the gate.

Outside food or beverages will not be allowed, except for those with dietary restrictions.

 The following will be unavailable until further notice:

  • All rides (trams, children’s rides, train)
  • Playground
  • Seasonal activities
  • Keeper chats and shows
  • Water play areas
  • Indoor exhibits

The zoo will have markers to ensure people stay 6 feet apart, directional markers will be provided, hand sanitizer stations will be provided and food will be sold from kiosks with plexiglass barriers. 

“Our objective is to open with the highest possible level of safety for our team, our visitors and our collection of animals,” said Memphis Zoo CEO Jim Dean, in a statement. “Nothing is more important. We will ensure that we adhere to our new operating protocol and be accountable to the Shelby County Health Department and the City of Memphis.”

The zoo said it will ask employees and guests to stay home if sick, encourage respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene and routinely clean all surfaces and public areas.


May 07, 2020

Lee: lives and livelihoods not an ‘either/or’ situation

3:49 PM CT, May 7

At Gov. Bill Lee’s COVID-19 briefing this afternoon in Nashville he began by noting it is National day of Prayer. He said it is poignant given the pandemic.

Also this is Correctional Officer Week and National Nurses Week and National Teachers Week.

He said teachers are “working hard or harder than ever before.”

Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey toured earlier Thursday the alternative medical facility being built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 495 Union Ave., the former site of The Commercial Appeal.

The 400-bed facility is to open in mid-May. Piercey said she was impressed by the rapid construction of the facility that is designed to be available should local hospitals become overwhelmed by a later surge of the virus. She also praised the collaboration by public health officials and leaders of the private health care industry in the city.

Statewide there are 14,096 confirmed coronavirus cases, up 1% from yesterday; 237 Tennesseans have died from the virus.

We have reached 250,000 tested statewide. Lee calls it a milestone and said the number will go up in May with federal support.

Piercey said 236,000 tests have been administered statewide. 

”If you are going back to work, get a test,” he said. “If you have a symptom, get a test.”

Tennessee will have tested every prisoner in every state prison this week.

About the 90% asymptomatic rate in state prisons: Piercey said that rate was in Trousdale that has a log of inmates reporting or showing symptoms. She said that it is an “extensive” log. They also go by appearances when the health department gets involved.

Piercey said on asymptomatic prisoners nationally, she said she doesn’t believe that applies to the general prison population and spread of the virus. They are still trying to test the number. And she said more testing will tell the tale on asymptomatic prisoners.

Lee said the state effort is looking at high density residential areas -- “targeted high value testing.”

The goal is to test 10,000-plus a day in the next month.

Piercey said a lot of results coming in over the next few days includes nursing home testing the state is assisting in; also testing aimed at targeted populations.

On nursing home reform: Piercey said the industry believes it is one of most regulated industries in the world. She said the administration has no intent to add more.

Piercey said lessons from New York show crowded housing and close quarters are associated with the spread of the virus. Even in a household, she said less room to spread out means people are more likely to have the virus.

Lee said the state will work to source and identify sources of materials for masks.

On mental health concerns: Lee said challenges have surfaced in newer and greater ways. He said the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has a 24/7 hotline: (855) 274-7471 and texting.

The state military’s focus is on testing -- to assist in that. COVID-19 has affected training for the National Guard. Pilot training catch up is next Tuesday. They will consolidate aircraft to make as many flights to all areas of state as can to salute health care workers to recognize them.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and unemployment money from the federal government is up to date. The state is working to get benefits to Tennesseans. The focus is on getting people back to work.

On reopening across the state: Great Smoky Mountain National Park will reopen this weekend.

On lack of masks in Gatlinburg as it reopened: Lee said they need to spread the word on “Tennessee Pledge” precautions and standards. He said some of the visitors from out of state. Tourism Commissioner Ezell will be on ground in Gatlinburg to reemphasize guidelines and importance of social distancing.

On enforcement Lee said he doesn’t start with the assumption that people won’t comply: “there is a reason for self enforcement. If there is a bad actor ... we will engage with them. ... But the vast majority of businesses in the state have been” complying.

Lee said lives and livelihoods are not an “either/or” situation. He said it has not been a struggle but a balance. And it was something that hadn’t been dealt with before.

How do you know if spread is down as businesses open?

Lee said they are tracking cases in different ways and changes to targeted testing. Piercey said they are looking at a list of testing metrics. Flattening the curve was never about eliminating or completely removing the spread of this virus. She said that will be a fact until we have a vaccine. Flattening the curve is about the capacity of hospitals to keep up with demand.

Piercey said they are looking more at specific areas -- populations, nursing homes, minority populations and those at higher risk for the virus. On a geographic scale, they took a wide approach in the initial effort -- not every part of the state is the same. So, they are looking again at a more surgical approach instead of a shotgun approach.

Lee: “We are in the middle of this.”

He said the state will do all humanly possible to protect lives and protect livelihoods.

Lee said next school year will be up to the Legislature. He hopes the new school year begins in August as planned. He said he will follow virus trends specifically for its impact on the new school year.

On when to go back to school and whether it’s a full return to the classroom: Lee said local school districts know best what is happening on the ground. But the decision about how school year is determined and who goes back when -- will be much like it has been in the past.

On school vouchers and Lee’s decision not to process applications. Lee said the deadline to apply is today, so they are still taking but not processing them.


Airbnbs forbids parties at Memphis properties

2:00 PM CT, May 7

Typically home-sharing platform Airbnb lets its hosts set their own “House Rules'' regarding events and parties, but in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the company has forbidden hosts to allow parties and events in Memphis until further notice. 

“While Governor (Bill) Lee has announced some gradual restrictions on his emergency order, his ban on non-religious social gatherings remains in effect,” reads the statement from the company. 

The company’s statement goes on to read, “We want to be very clear -- not only will we ban guests who attempt to throw an unauthorized party in a Memphis Airbnb listing, we will be cooperating with Memphis Police in any investigations relating to parties and violations of public health mandates, consistent with our Terms of Service.”

Airbnb said it has also temporarily disabled the “event-friendly” search filter and continues work to prevent and address unauthorized parties held by guests.

As both government and health authorizes relax their rules, Airbnb said it will evaluate its policy adjustments.



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